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ESCAPE BY NIGHT (ERA NOTTE A ROMA)(aka: IT WAS NIGHTTIME IN ROME) (aka: BLACKOUT IN ROME) (director/writer: Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters: Sergio Amidei/Diego Fabbri/Brunello Rondi; cinematographer: Carlo Carlini; editor: Roberto Cinquini; music: Renzo Rossellini; cast: Leo Genn (Major Mike Pemberton), Giovanna Ralli (Esperia), Sergei Bondarchuk (Sgt. Fyodor Nazukov), Hannes Messemer (Baron Von Kleist), Peter Baldwin (Lt. Peter Bradley), George Tetrarca (Tarcisio), Renato Salvatori (Renato), Paolo Stoppa (Prince Alessandro Antoniani), Enrico Maria Salerno (Costanzi); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roberto Rossellini; Lionsgate; 1960-Italy/France-in Italian, Russian, German and English, with English subtitles)
Stylishly filmed in black-and-white, and effectively mixes together neorealism, film noir and didactic lessons in patriotism.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Escape by Night might be Roberto Rossellini’s (“Open City”/”The Age of the Medici’“/”Germany, Year Zero”)most forgotten film, and that’s a shame because it’s quite good even if not on a par with his masterpieces from the 1940s. It’s stylishly filmed in black-and-white, and effectively mixes together neorealism, film noir and didactic lessons in patriotism. The scene is set in the tense Nazi-occupied Rome of late 1943 and early 1944, after the fall of Mussolini. Writers Rossellini, Sergio Amidei, Diego Fabbri and Brunello Rondi keep it moving in a tense way as if it were a suspense story.

Three POWs from a German concentration camp in Italy escape and wind-up in Rome, where they are given shelter in a hidden attic by reluctant working-class black market operator named Esperia (Giovanna Ralli). She fears that if caught she will be shot, but it’s too late to turn the men out. The trio consists of the idealistic Russian Sgt. Fyodor Nazukov (Sergei Bondarchuk, directed the Soviet screen version of ”War and Peace”), the bold but naive American pilot Lt. Peter Bradley (Peter Baldwin) and the old-school well-mannered scholarly British Major Mike Pemberton (Leo Genn).

Esperia’s underground Communist lover Renato (Renato Salvatori) is killed by the Nazis when his partisan group is betrayed by a defrocked venal Nazi-collaborator priest, Tarcisio (George Tetrarca), who walks with a limp and has designs on fleeing with the sexy Esperia to Venice when the Americans land on Anzio.

The unsentimental war drama celebrates those humanitarians who risked their lives to fight against the fascists for freedom, it proudly beams that Christian charity benefits all of humanity, it mocks the Italians for being fickle fair-weather supporters of the fascists when things were good but dropped them when they lost power, and gives credit to those who tried to overcome their provincialism and communicated with each other even if they don’t speak the same language. The straightforward film might have been uneven (the main characters were not developed beyond being symbols and were stereotyped according to their nationality), but the story itself never failed to be affecting.

It’s presented as a two-disc DVD by Lionsgate, entitled theRoberto Rossellini collection. The other obscure film on the DVD is (1954).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”